You’ve seen the video. On the beach, moms frolic with their kids, beam into the camera. It says something like, “They don’t care about your jiggly stomach. They don’t care about your saggy ass.” The important part is not the way you look, the video says. The important part is that you, mom, are there. That you wear a bathing suit, despite your bodily imperfections in a land that glorifies the perfect skinny teenage dream. You’re their dream. You’re their mom. They need you.
I approach the water with a loose rashguard, or I don’t approach the water at all. That’s my compromise.
I know that my kids and my husband don’t care; therefore, I shouldn’t care either. After all, they’re the people who matter the most to me, the people I love, and the people whose opinion I should care about. But that doesn’t take into account my own opinion. And by my own opinion, I don’t want people looking at me.
This is my beach and pool regime. I wear a bikini under a loose, sleeveless red dress, along with dark sunglasses and a floppy straw hat. At the last minute, I stand up and suck in my stomach. As quickly as possible, I doff the hat and dress, then claw my way into a loose, black (always black) rashguard. I’ve made sure my bikini bottoms are the type that tie, so they don’t cut into my hip fat. Then I scramble for the water and immerse myself at least to the thighs.
The body positive movement tells me I should love my flabby belly, my pudgy hips, my jiggly thighs and sagging ass. They are, after all, part of me, and I should love myself. I should know all bodies are beautiful, not just the skinny ones plastered over mass media. And I do. I routinely look at women larger than me and think, she’s beautiful. I see girls with curves and curves and curves on curves and think, she’s so pretty. I believe every body is beautiful. I swear. Except mine.
I don’t know why I can’t layer the idea of beautiful bodies onto my own. Probably because I was always the skinny girl, and my family made a big deal of that. “You’re so skinny,” they said, in a voice that might as well have been saying, “You’re so adorable.” But since my sister was the cute one, with her long blonde hair, I clung to “skinny” like a life raft. We all probably have these stories: stories of beauty thwarted, stories of attractiveness denied. Boys who told us, “Shut up, you’re ugly!” when we tried to talk in class. Mothers who said we could stand to lose a little weight. A moment with the scale, a single number, a sinking heart. That first feeling of our thighs rubbing together. And when we got pregnant, when pregnancy etched its artistry upon our bodies, those stories came back, came true. And in the whole entire world, we became the one fat girl.
I made a meme the other day: “How to get bikini-ready: Wear a bikini.” And I believe that, I do. I believe in imperfections, in big thighs and bellies and fat-bottomed girls. They’re beautiful. But my body isn’t beautiful. My stomach sags down like crepe paper from the 100 pounds I gained with my last pregnancy. My thighs are paper-white, speckled over with the red dots of keratosis pilaris. They rub together. My torso creases down into my hips. I wear Spanx religiously. And my ass — it’s pale, it’s lower than it should be, and that’s about all you can say. I can’t help my thighs, but I can hide everything else in a black rashguard. The black hides the pudge of my stomach and the side-swell of my hips. Then, once I’m in the water, that hides everything else.
I have to choose between getting my hair wet and hiding my body, and I usually choose hiding my body. That way, I can swim with my kids. They like that, when you pretend to be a dolphin (even though everyone gets a great view of my ass) or throw them up in the air and into the water. My oldest always asks for that. “Mama, can you come throw me?” And even though I’m not as strong as Daddy, I still get shrieks of glee. I’m glad I get in the water. It’s important to the kids.
And I can do the rest of it in a dress. I can wade with the baby without taking it off. I can pick up shells and rocks without donning the rashguard. I can build epic sandcastles while sitting, fill buckets and pails, sculpt turrets and moats. We can make memories. They don’t need to see my stomach to do it.
Maybe one day I’ll get over it. I have a bikini (black) after all. And the older I get, the less I’ll look like that teenage dream ideal. I should strip down while I can. I know I should. But I just can’t.